Born in Northampton, England in 1786, William Sumner went to sea as a young man aboard a British ship that landed on Kauai in 1804, where he jumped ship, and where his extreme brightness and good looks caught the attention of Kauai’s King Kaumualii, who befriended him and adopted him as his son.
During 1804, the same year Sumner arrived on Kauai, Kamehameha I — who had already conquered all the Hawaiian Islands, except Niihau and Kauai — tried to conquer Kauai for the second time and failed, his first attempt having met with disaster in 1796.
Kamehameha thereafter sought a peaceful means of unifying all of Hawaii under his dominion.
He therefore proposed an alliance with Kaumualii, whereby, Kaumualii would continue to retain authority over Kauai and Niihau, but under Kamehameha’s rule, provided that Kaumualii would acknowledge his sovereignty in person and be willing to pay him tribute.
In return, Kamehameha would make no further attempts to conquer Kauai.
Kaumualii, dreading a third invasion, consented, and with his leading chiefs, priests, and his son, William Sumner, sailed to Honolulu aboard Captain Nathan Winship’s merchant ship in March or April of 1810, where his alliance with Kamehameha was sealed.
At Honolulu, Kamehameha also took a liking to Sumner, and asked Kaumualii to allow Sumner to stay with him to become a member of his royal household.
King Kaumualii agreed — as did Sumner, it seems — and Sumner went on to sail on and captain numerous ships on voyages for Kamehameha, and later, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III).
On one such voyage, in 1817, as chief mate of the brig “Forrester,” under the command of Alexander Adams, he witnessed the Russian flag being hauled down at Fort Elizabeth, Kauai and the Russians being expelled from Kauai.
Over the years, Sumner was awarded several land grants on Oahu for his services.
William Sumner married High Chiefess Keakuaaihue Kanealai Hua, with whom he had three children.
He died in 1847 and is buried at Oahu Cemetery.